Friday, 21 May 2010

Monsterpiece Theater Redux

The children's T.V show Sesame Street used to screen a series of sketches called Monsterpiece Theater (or Theatre) back in its heyday, which were really well-made parodies of popular literature, T.V shows, plays and films. The show's setting was itself a parody of the British Masterpiece Theatre hosted by Alistair Cooke, each episode opening with Alistair introducing a well known play, book, movie or musical.

The reason I bring this up is because I used to watch this show as a kid, and never got any of the cultural references, but after all I've learned over the last 10 years, I get them now. It's strange that you have to be an adult to fully appreciate a children's show. I wonder if there are any other examples out there? Why would the show's creators do this? Were they aiming to reinforce what they considered to be good art? To tell us kids what's good and what isn't?

I've linked to some of the sketches below. Notice how much of the humor is actually derived from lines that directly reference the original source material. Like I said, it would help if you've read or watched the stuff being spoofed to truly appreciate this.

1. Hamlet (4.46)

"It don't get classier than this" 

Mel Gibson doesn't scrimp on his acting skills as he and Elmo help explain feelings in this spoof of Hamlet.

2. Monster of Venice (3.20)

"Guess that why not called Monster of Cleveland"

A cake and balloons somewhat replace 'a pound of flesh' in this message about equality. Grover's monologue is hilarious.

3. The 39 Stairs (3.27)

"There better be something exciting at the top"

They make good use of the old-school Film noir theme in this spoof of the title of Hitchcock's The 39 Steps, based on John Buchan's book by the same name.

Notice the shadow on the wall as Grover goes up the stairs - reminiscent of Nosferatu?

4. Waiting for Elmo (2.57) 

"Why couldn't they do Oklahoma?"

Grover and Telly explore their feelings in this spoof of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot.

5. Chariots of Fur (4.39)

Grover and Herry carry out the best Chariots of Fire parody ever.

6. Twin Beaks (5.24)

"Me like bird that knows own name"

The longest MT sketch, a spoof of Twin Peaks, and kind of creepy in a way that only a David Lynch product can be. Watch for multiple show references. There's an educational reference in here somewhere but I'm missing it and don't care.

7. Gone with the Wind (2.22)

" hear it about...the wind"

Flying sheep don't deter you from subtraction lessons in this Gone With The Wind spoof.

8. Little House on/under/in Prairie (2.18)

"You got maybe a bungalow?"

Alistair Cookie personally helps to explain prepositions in his own unique way in this spoof of Little house on the Prairie. Reminds me of Monster in a Box (below).

9. The Old Man and the C (1.41)

"That surprise ending gets me every time"

I find it apt that one of the shortest sketches in this series was a parody of one of Hemingway's shortest works.

10. Me Claudius (1.52)

One of the first Monsterpiece Theater sketches, this had no standard opening theme. It spoofed the T.V series I, Claudius, complete with something slimy crawling across a Roman mosaic. 

Other Monsterpiece Theater sketches can be found below:

Upstairs/Downstairs (4.07) - One of the first MT sketches, a parody of the British T.V show of the same name.

Ali Baba and the 40 thieves (4.20) - A sketch that never really takes off. Here's a link to the original story.

The 400 Blows (2.49) - A counting lesson spoofing the title of Francois Truffaut's film The 400 Blows.

The Taming of the Shoe (3.31) - The first of Shakespeare's works to be spoofed in this series, and a lesson on cooperation.

The King and i (1.55) - A spelling lesson probably based around the full feature musical.

The Postman Always Rings Twice (5.02) - a parody of the title of the similarly named film.

The Sound of Music (2.22) - Grover struggles with The Sound of Music.

Dr. No (3.59) - A spelling lesson based around a spoof of Ian Fleming's Dr. No.

1 Flew over the Cuckoos Nest (3.02) - This counting lesson spoofs the title of both the film & book.

Monster in a Box (2.59) - Spalding Gray's work is spoofed to discuss prepositions.

The Sun Also Rises (5.00) - A clever play on the title of Hemingway's first book provides for a basic home science lesson.

Monsters with Dirty Faces (4.32) - a black and white spoof of Angels with Dirty Faces. 

Lethal Weapon 3 (2.16) - Mel Gibson and Danny Glover reunite for a few seconds of 'danger'. 

Room at the Top (2.36) - A parody of the title of the movie. 

Inside/Outside Story (3.32) - A spoof of Westside Story. 

Conservations with my Father (5.18) - Sesame Street turns Conversations with My Father into an environmental lesson.

The Horse Whisperer (2.53) - Possibly the last sketch in this series, & possibly inspired by this film.

ABCD Blue (3.01) - NYPD Blue does the alphabet.

Anyone's Nose (2.37) - Inspired by the Anything Goes musical by Cole Porter.

Cyranose de Bergerac (4.51) - Considering that the intro is short, this spoof of Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac play is a really long sketch.

Adding with the Fiddler (3.54) -The muppets turn a popular play into a counting lesson.

Dances With Wolves (4.38) - A bit too long, in my opinion. See the original movie if you haven't done so already.

Guys and dolls (2.41) - A musical parodying the title of this musical.

Howard's End (1.31) - The shortest MT sketch ever, parodying the title of the film and book.

Twelve Angry Men (2.01) - A parody of one of the movies, or all of them. Or the book. It's hard to say.

Little Red Riding Cookie (4.18) - A spoof of the original fairy tale.

Comments welcome.


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